“Moments, High and Low”- by Stacey Rathjen

It’s been about a month since I returned from 2 weeks in Uganda and I’m settling back into the familiarity of my everyday life.  This was my 3rd trip to the African continent (the first time with HopeChest) and there has always been some unsettlement as I have returned and tried to wrap my heart and mind around what I experienced yet continue to live my ridiculously blessed life.

I thought I’d share a few of the highlights and lowlights from the trip.  As I’ve been back, I’ve had so many people ask how the trip was.  Depending on the person, they’ll either get the standard “It was a great trip!”, or close friends and family will get to endure me going on and on for probably a little too long… I’ll attempt to do something in the middle here to hopefully encourage others to consider taking a trip like this in the future. (which I highly, HIGHLY recommend)

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Highlight #1-  Traveling across the world with 16 of the coolest people.

You take a group of 17 relative strangers and spend 2 weeks all day/ everyday with them… it can either go really well or really bad.  Our team was exceptionally awesome.  Such a loving and caring group of people.  It’s the kind of people you want to do life with and the kind of people you NEED when you experience what we all experienced.  We had emotional moments where everyone showed such kindness and compassion towards each other and we had moments where I literally could barely catch my breath I was laughing so hard.  And seeing these people with the kiddos… they really have a gift- every single one of them.  They all show unconditional love every day to every single one of those children (there were HUNDREDS of them over the span of 9 days).  Truly such a joy to know and travel with those people.  I’ll forever remember our time together.

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Lowlight #1- The bathroom situation

I’m not going to lie.  It’s not fun.  Yes, we had access to “normal” toilets in the morning and evenings… but during the day, it was a hole in the ground.  It’s all about bladder control at this point, folks.  You don’t use it unless you absolutely have to.   It’s Africa and all part of the experience ☺

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Highlight #2- Meeting Rebecca

For any of you that read my last blog post on this site, you’ll remember I was pretty nervous and apprehensive to meet my sponsored girl…Her name is Rebecca and I have been sponsoring her for about 4 years.  The first day in Ogoloi, I found her right away and we hugged and got some pictures together (picture below)… but then she disappeared!  She’s a very shy girl at first and definitely kept her distance that first day.  It was only after she took me to her home the next day that she became a permanent fixture by my side, and by the 3rd day, wouldn’t let go of my hand.  

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Visiting her home, I got to hear about what a tough situation their family is in.  Rebecca and her mother (her dad died) are in danger of getting kicked off their land by her Father’s family.  Most 14 year old girls are worried about their hair and the cute boy at school, while Rebecca is concerned and worried about not having a place to live. Both her and her mother asked me if I would be able to buy them any land while I was there— Nothing prepares you for those conversations.  It’s gut-wrenching to think about what some of these kids deal with on a daily basis.   

The third day we were preparing to leave and Rebecca was constantly asking me when I was going to come back. Not wanting to make a promise I couldn’t keep, I told her I wasn’t sure but I would try my hardest.  As we said goodbye, her tears came.  I gave her the biggest and hardest hug I could and then got on the bus and watched her slowly walk away with her head down.  Even today, I struggle with feeling like I let her down.  I know there’s not much more I could have done in that moment, but I know that I can still continue to encourage her from afar—thru letters back and forth.  I do hope that one day I can visit her again.  After meeting her, what I was struck with is that if Rebecca wasn’t in the sponsorship program, her life would be dramatically different.  She likely wouldn’t be in school, she wouldn’t be eating regular meals, and would have very little hope of a future that didn’t involve extreme poverty.  The little that I provide her every month drastically changes the course of her life.  It’s a big deal to her—that’s why she spent what little money she had to buy me a gift, that’s why she cried when I left, and that’s why her mother wouldn’t stop hugging me.  I’m not that big of a deal, but I can provide something for Rebecca that she can’t and that her mother only hopes one day she could.  This stuff matters.  It’s not just $38 a month, it is dramatically changing someone’s life for the better.

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Lowlight #2 – Sweat.

Uganda is at the equator.  There is no air conditioner in Uganda.  Just plan on being sweaty… constantly.  I’m fairly certain I consumed more bottled water in those two weeks than the previous 3 months combined!

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We were dripping with sweat but full of JOY!!

Highlight #3- Progress and Hope

Children’s HopeChest has a very unique model for each of these CarePoints.  We aren’t just throwing money at them and giving them handouts.  We are giving them a hand-up.  CHC works hard to do everything they can to help move these kids and communities out of poverty through empowering the communities to do it themselves.  It’s something I’ve never seen or heard of in other organizations like this and it’s becoming very evident that it’s working!  In one of the CarePoints, Ogoloi, they are teaching kids and community members various trades (carpentry, sewing, hair braiding, computers, etc…) so that they can eventually make money with these trade skills.  This is the kind of thing that will one day alleviate poverty.  We need to teach them how to provide a service and grow a business, not give them free shoes and our old hand-me-down clothing. I loved seeing this.  There’s a long way to go, but the progress is so encouraging.

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Lowlight #3- 40 hours in a plane

It’s about 20 hours in a plane each way people.  There is no way to mentally prepare for that.  I coped with sleeping pills and LOTS of movies.  

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Gotta make the most of your time flying together!

I believe everyone should take a trip like this at some point in their life if possible. Traveling the world and seeing parts of it you’ve never seen is such an amazing experience.  It’s life changing and life giving in so many ways.  Honestly, I’ve struggled in the past with where God has me right now, but then He gives me moments and opportunities like this.  Moments that I know other people don’t always get to experience, moments that continue to point to his goodness and faithfulness in my life.  So I’ll keep saying YES to that… and keep watching to see what He will do.  

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 Stacey (aka #14)

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